DEADPOOL (USA | Canada/16/108mins)
Directed by Tim Miller. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, TJ Miller, Gina Carano, Ed Skrein, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand.
THE PLOT: When mercenary for hire Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decides to take a chance on an experimental treatment that will activate any mutant genes lying dormant in his system. Although the treatment is successful, Wilson – now going by the name of Deadpool – believes his life and chance at happiness with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is destroyed, and sets out to take his violent and bloody revenge.
THE VERDICT: Although fans have been waiting for the big screen story of the Merc with a Mouth since Wade Wilson’s appearance in 2009’s ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’, but the film has actually been stuck in development hell since 2000. Now that the film is finally here, the question remains, is it any good?
Ryan Reynolds obviously has a whale of a time as Wade Wilson/Deadpool. Not only does he get to be snarky and smart, he also talks a mile a minute, gets to kill a lot of bad guys in increasingly violent ways, and eventually and predictably, save the day. Although this time, the day saving is personal and not one on which the fate of the world relies. Morena Baccarin has very little to do as Vanessa, other than be a hooker with a heart of gold, a challenge to Wilson as a girlfriend – ‘Your crazy matches my crazy’ – but then quickly fall into the role of damsel in distress. Ed Skrein has some fun as bad guy Ajax/Francis, TJ Miller becomes Deadpool’s best friend and verbal sparring partner and Gina Carano plays Angel Dust. X-Men Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead also make appearances, played by Stefan Kapicic and Brianna Hildebrand.
The story, written for the screen by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, with input from Ryan Reynolds, starts off being unusual and fun, but quickly falls into the standard flow for a superhero movie – yeah, I know, Deadpool ain’t no hero, but you get the point – with the final set piece destroying acres of the city and ending with a kiss for our ‘hero’. The screenplay tries to be smart and self aware with plenty of nods to Reynolds himself and his previous heroic outings, as well as pop culture and the fact that the X-Men Universe storyline changed after the events of ‘Days of Future Past’. This starts off well, but eventually begins to grate, as does Deadpool’s desire to talk through any moment of silence the film throws up. As well as this, the women of the film do not come out well, with Negasnoic Teenage Warhead constantly belittled, Angel Dust unable to fight without her top falling off and Vanessa being reduced to a dame to be rescued.
Director Tim Miller keeps the set pieces big and loud, and handles the romance between Wade and Vanessa rather well, but once the story kicks off properly Vanessa is thrown to the background in favour of Deadpool’s penchant for sex and violence. The pacing of the film is fine – and it is blissfully short – but once the final set piece approaches, the film falls into familiar territory, with even the retro and anachronistic music choices feeling rather like they were pulled from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.
In all, ‘Deadpool’ succeeds at being ‘Kick-Ass’’s grown up older brother, but does little to feel fresh and exciting after the first act. Reynolds has a ball with the title role – although there are times when less talking would definitely be more – but every other character is sidelined, with the women coming off particularly badly. Still the soundtrack is good, and there is some fun to be had with a lot of ‘Deadpool’; the fans will love how faithful the film is to the character, but the uninitiated will wonder why this backward looking film was not updated to feel more inclusive of the audience as a whole.
Review by Brogen Hayes
ZOOLANDER 2 (USA/12A/102mins)
Directed by Ben Stiller. Starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Justin Theroux, Benedict Cumberbatch.
THE PLOT: After the collapse of his poorly-constructed Institute For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too – killing his wife and landing on the face of his fellow model superstar, Hansel (Wilson), Derek Zoolander (Stiller) soon loses custody of his son too, and so heads off to live like ‘a hermit crab’ in the wilderness. The mysterious gunning down of five major pop stars (we delightfully get to see Bieber once again bite the bullet in the opening scene) leads interpol agent Valentina to believe Zoolander holds the key to unravelling their dying social media poses. Hansel too is being drawn out of retirement, happy to escape back into the real world when his beloved orgy gang – including men, women and goats of all shapes and sizes, including Kiefer Sutherland – are all simultaneously pregnant.
It soon becomes apparent that Derek’s orphaned son is the key to it all, which turns into a race against time when the evil Mugatu (Ferrell) makes his escape from prison.
THE VERDICT: Right down with ‘Dumb & Dumber To’ and ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’, ‘Zoolander 2’ is one hot mess.
Which is both disappointing and surprising, given that Stiller knows funny, and this was his golden ticket out a major box-office slump. ‘Zoolander 2’ will open strong, but weak word of mouth means that this lame sequel will be so last season.
There’s about five-minutes’ worth of good gags to be saved from the fire here, most of them in the momentarily funny ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ closing battle. For the other 137mins though, you may find it a struggle to keep your eyes even half open.
A has-been playing a has-been worked wonders for Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler’, but Stiller is on the ropes here, with pop culture gags that would make even a Wayans wince. Is mentioning Netflix and Uber really all that funny? Or, eh, hip? Riddled with lame gags, crap CGI (Fred Armisen as an 11-year-old boy – why?), irritating supporting oddballs that are far more Jar Jar than haha, and the new Pauly Shore to boot, ‘Zoolander 2’ plays like a rushed SNL sketch that simply won’t stop.
The first ‘Zoolander’ had Bowie. This one has Sting. A lot. Enough said.
Review by Paul Byrne
CONCUSSION (UK | Australia | USA/12A/123mins)
Directed by Peter Landesman. Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, David Morse, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, Eddie Marsan, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
THE PLOT: When former professional NFL player Mike Webster (David Morse) dies of an apparent heart attack, pathologist Bennett Omalu (Will Smith) pays for tests to be done on Webster’s brain at his own expense. After his findings reveal that constant head injuries left Webster – and potentially hundreds of other NFL players – with a degenerative brain condition, Omalu publishes his work in a medical journal, inadvertently drawing the anger of the NFL.
THE VERDICT: It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has watched more than a few moments of American Football that this violent contact sport can have disastrous effects on players, but just how much suffering former players had to go through before this condition was realised – and even then, only after their deaths – has not quite been shown before. That said, this is not the story of the players, it is the story of a Nigerian immigrant to America, a highly qualified doctor who chose to work as a pathologist, and the struggle he went through to have his work acknowledged, and to protect players.
Will Smith is in the lead here as doctor Bennett Omalu, and although his Nigerian accent jars on first hearing it, Smith actually has a pretty firm grasp of the gentle African way of speaking. Smith also portrayed Omalu as a gentle and noble man, which makes the character watchable, and the audience drawn into this underdog tale. Smith is backed up by Eddie Marsan, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Albert Brooks on wonderful, witty form. The cast are good with what they are given, but this is Smith’s film.
Writer / Director Peter Landesman has written another solid examination of true events, after Parkland and Kill the Messenger, and the screenplay for the film is solid in terms of simple and engaging dialogue. When the film falls down, however, is in getting caught up in the subplots of the film. Examining the life that Mike Webster was living before he died is worthwhile for the sake of the film, but there is a love story thrown in, seemingly, for the sake of giving Will Smith someone to give a monologue to and to receive an inspirational speech from, and the first 30 minutes or so of the film feel sluggish and drawn out in establishing the rest of the story.
As director, Landesman struggles with the pace of the first and final acts of the film. Establishing the story feels as though it takes a lot of work, and the final act of the film simply runs out of energy and peters out. The performances are strong enough, but the actors are simply not given a chance to do much other than carry the story.
In all, ‘Concussion’ is an interesting enough tale, but since a lot of the events and findings mentioned in the film are still being investigated, there is no truly satisfactory ending to be had in the film. Smith and his supporting cast do fine with what they are given, but still only act as conduits to the story, so even though there is enough to engage with here, the film feels unfinished and unsatisfying.
Review by Brogen Hayes
THE SURVIVALIST (UK/18/104mins)
Directed by Stephen Fingleton. Starring Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouere.
THE PLOT: After the world’s oil production dips and the population continues to expand, a man (Martin McCann) lives off a small plot of land hidden deep in the forest. When Kathyrn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth) find his hideout and offer to trade for food, an uneasy alliance springs up between them. It is not long, however, before this peace is shattered by shifting loyalties and a lack of food.
THE VERDICT:’ The Survivalist’ marks the feature debut for established short filmmaker Stephen Fingleton. The film is set at an undetermined future point, where food is rare and the need to survive has turned mankind against each other. Although there are hints that this film takes place somewhere in Northern Ireland – where it was shot – one of the strengths of ‘The Survivalist’ is the fact that it could be set anywhere in the world.
Martin McCann leads the cast as the solitary man, farming the land and trying to survive in an isolated cabin in the woods. When first we meet this man, he is burying a body; giving us the feel that this is a man who is willing to go to extreme lengths in order to stay alive. Dialogue is minimal in ‘The Survivalist’, and McCann certainly adheres to this idea of cinematic silence, but although there is not a lot of conversation in the film, there is plenty of communication, and McCann easily broadcasts his thoughts and fears to the audience.
Olwen Fouere plays the over bearing mother of the obviously teenage Milja and again, she has learned that survival in this new world is down to doing what needs to be done for the sake of her daughter. Fouere is formidable in her role, and makes the character feel as though she is consistently on a knife edge, waiting to spring. Mia Goth makes Milja go through the most remarkable transformation in the film; at first literally standing in her mother’s shadow, it soon becomes clear that this girl is the one who actually holds the power in this three way relationship, and it is her loyalties that decide the fate of the others.
Stephen Fingleton’s screenplay for ‘The Survivalist’ must have been only a couple of pages long, dialogue is so short on the ground here, but the silence and the new way of communication that grows up between the characters ensures that the audience is never left wondering as to motivation. Back-stories are hinted at just enough to keep the film moving, but this is not a story about the past.
As director, Fingleton allows the tension of the film to ebb and flow, as trust and loyalties change from scene to scene. Just as it seems the film has lost momentum, something else goes wrong; wrong enough to keep the story moving and allowing the audience to learn a little more about the characters we are spending time with. The film is beautifully shot by Damien Elliott, in a way that shows the contrast between the inside and the outside, between life and death. Although the opening explanation as to just how humanity became so doomed feels a little out of place with the rest of the film.
In all, ‘The Survivalist’ is a lean, atmospheric and superbly acted thriller from first time director Stephen Fingleton. The pacing allows tension to build, the cinematography is beautiful and the story just enough to keep the audience enthralled. If only that infographic at the start of the film had been cut.
Review by Brogen Hayes
A BIGGER SPLASH (Italy | France/15A/124mins)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Starring Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Matthais Schoenaerts, Aurore Clément.
THE PLOT: Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and her partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are hiding away from the former’s rock and roll lifestyle, after surgery on her throat has put her singing career on hold. Their peace is shattered by the arrival of Harry (Ralph Fiennes), a former lover of Marianne’s, and his newfound adult daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). It is not long before history becomes the present as the four struggle to come to terms with their pasts and their futures.
THE VERDICT: ‘A Bigger Splash’ – named after a painting by David Hockney – is a remake of the 1969 French film ‘La Piscine’. The film also marks the first collaboration between Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino since ‘I Am Love’ in 2009.
Although she does not speak for much of the film, Tilda Swinton seems to reprise her role as David Bowie from his 2013 music video “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” in the flashback scenes of the film. Or she was dressing up as Win Butler from Arcade Fire. Either way, Swinton full advantage of her character’s inability to speak, making Marianne’s desires and motivations instantly recognisable and understandable. As well as this, every time Swinton appears on screen she lights the film up with the grace and poise she brings to the character. On the other side of the coin is Ralph Fiennes as Harry. As motor mouthed as Swinton is silent, Fiennes seems to take pleasure in playing a self centred and emotionally stunted character, bringing joy and jealousy to a wonderful dance sequence soundtracked by The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue”.
Elsewhere, Matthias Schoenaerts shows a mostly gentle but troubled character in Paul; his chemistry and ease with Swinton being a joy to watch, and Dakota Johnson plays a more world savvy and manipulative version of her character from Fifty Shades of Grey.
David Kajganich’s screenplay rather faithfully follows the events of La Piscine, but the twist of Marianne being unable to speak – other than in intimate moments with Paul – adds a layer of secrecy to the already complicated history between these characters. Add a hint of incest and a suggestion of rape – or statutory rape – and things become complicated very fast. It is clear from almost the outset that we are not going to get answers to all the questions the film poses, but rather than this being an accepted part of the film, it leaves the film feeling unfinished and thin.
Director Luca Guadagnino tries to bring cinematic quirkiness and lightness to a film about love, obsession, rage and jealousy, and while this almost works for the first two acts of the film, in the final act this feels ever more self-conscious and forced as it consistently brings the audience out of the film. The performances are strong, but the pacing of the film struggles to get through the 124 minute running time, and the tone of the film changes so suddenly toward the end of the film as to be jarring.
In all, ‘A Bigger Splash’ is a film filled with wonderful actors and great performances. The cinematography is a distraction at times, but since the story is fairly thin and offers few answers, this is not always a bad thing. The cast deserved better though.
Review by Brogen Hayes
ODDBALL & THE PENGUINS (Australia/G/95mins)
Directed by Stuart McDonald. Starring Alan Tudyk, Sarah Snook, Coco Jack Gillies, Deborah Mailman, Shane Jacobson.
THE PLOT: Middle Island off the coast of Warrnambool, Australia, has been home to fairy penguins for many years, but since foxes have found their way to the island, the penguin population has been severely diminished. With only 20 penguins left, and the conservation status of the island under threat, chicken farmer Swampy (Shane Jacobson) and his granddaughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) decide to train Swampy’s rather odd sheepdog Oddball to defend the penguins from the predatory foxes.
THE VERDICT: ‘Oddball and the Penguins’ is based on a true story, and is just about odd enough to be charming and endearing. The trouble is that this sweet little film feels a little cheap and a little forced in places.
The central cast is made up of Shane Jacobson as Swampy, Coco Jack Gillies as Olivia, Sarah Snook as Olivia’s mother Emily, and Alan Tudyk as Bradley, Emily’s new boyfriend who is determined to bring some tourism back to Warrnambool. Each of the cast bring a level of earnestness to the film that is only ever really seen in cinematic outings aimed at the youngest ones in the audience. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does undermine some of the drama in the film. There are times when the film feels a little like a pantomime, with many of the characters drawn cartoonishly and over the top that will begin to grate on the adults and older children in the audience.
Peter Ivan’s screenplay is based on the true story of Oddball the dog and his quest to protect penguins from foxes. In this way, the story is strange, offbeat and endearing. The central characters are written well enough, with some slapstick thrown in for Alan Tudyk, who is always good at such comedy. The trouble with the screenplay arises with the lack of focus; the film tries to split its time between the madcap story and the serious drama, leaving it feeling uneven.
Stuart McDonald’s direction makes the film charming and warm but slightly over the top, with a feeling that the children in the audience are slightly being spoken down to, which is never a good feeling for a kids’ film. That said, the film has a warm heart and although some of the effects look a little cheap and the island scenes were obviously filmed on a soundstage, there is a charm to the film that endures through the missteps the film takes.
In all, ‘Oddball and the Penguins’ is a charming film with a warm heart that makes some mistakes with tone and focus. That said, the youngest in the audience will enjoy the animal charm although adults and older kids will perhaps find less comedy in this earnest and heartfelt film.
Review by Brogen Hayes
JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS (USA/PG/118mins)
Directed by Jon M. Chu. Starring Aubrey Peebles, Juliette Lewis, Stefanie Scott, Aurora Perrineau, Hayley Kiyoko, Molly Ringwald.
THE PLOT: When the home Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) shares with her aunt, her sister and her aunt’s two foster daughters comes under threat, shy and retiring Jerrica finds herself recording a song she wrote, under the name of Jem – the pet name her late father had for her. When the song goes viral and Jerrica is tracked down, she finds herself playing sold out shows with her sisters and chasing down clues that her father left her, but when the time comes for her to go solo, Jerrica faces a hard choice.
THE VERDICT: ‘Jem and the Holograms’ is a new live action version of the wildly successful 1980s cartoon from Hasbro. Brought into the present day, the film sees Jem and her sisters obsessed with YouTube, but without the 1980s kookiness that made the TV series such a delight, ‘Jem and the Holograms’ is definitely a one hit wonder.
The cast of the film are charming enough, although they are never really given a chance to be anything other than familiar and rather predictable. Aubrey Peebles takes on the lead role, with Stefanie Scott, Aurora Perrineau and Hayley Kiyoko making up the Holograms, Molly Ringwald playing Aunt Bailey, Juliette lewis playing Erica Raymond and Ryan Guzman playing love interest Rio. The film is filled with cameos from YouTubers, as well as more familiar faces including Chris Pratt and Dwayne Johnson.
Ryan Landels’ screenplay quietly changes all the outrageous details of the cartoon that made the show work in the first place. Gone is the foster home that Jerrica runs with her friends, Eric Raymond is now Erica, and there is no sign of the bad gal Misfits until the post credits scene. As well as this, Synergy is now 51N3RGY, and although Jerrica’s father still created the robot, she is now more of a Star Wars style droid than a smart and interactive artificial intelligence. So what does this mean for the film? Well, without the elements that made the show fun, ‘Jem and the Holograms’ ends up feeling rather like ‘Josie and the Pussycats’, but not funny, or any generic film about fast fame and the repercussions that you care to mention.
Director Jon M. Chu makes ‘Jem and the Hologram’s a rather vanilla rags to riches and self actualisation story, while stripping out anything that could make the film feel new. The songs feel over produced, although they are fairly decent pop songs, but then its almost an hour before Jem even manages to take to the stage, leaving the film feeling drawn out. Splitting the narrative between fame and searching for the components of 51N3RGY shatters the focus of the film, so the audience are never really sure if this is a rags to riches story, a mystery or a different mystery,
In all, ‘Jem and the Holograms’ strips away all the good stuff from the cartoon and just keeps the name. There are no holograms, no Misfits until the credits, no real mystery and Jem has been turned from a girl trying to save her father’s legacy into a girl trying to survive in the YouTube generation. The songs are OK though.
Review by Brogen Hayes
ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP (USA/G/92mins)
Directed by Walt Becker. Starring Jason Lee, Retta, Tony Hale, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney.
THE PLOT: In this fourth instalment of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise; the three chipmunk brothers fear that Dave (Jason Lee) is going to propose to his new girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), meaning they will be saddled with Samantha’s bully of a son Miles (Josh Green). In order to stop this from happening, and to save their family, Alvin and the boys set out for Miami to ruin the proposal.
THE VERDICT: It is hard to imagine that this is now the fourth film to feature Jason Lee as keeper to a bunch of singing chipmunks, but here we are. Although the cancellation of Lee’s excellent TV show ‘My Name is Earl’ was a tragedy, this is not to blame for this squeaky and bland franchise, since he starred in the first film when he was still playing the well-meaning Earl on the small screen.
Lee does fine in the role of Dave, although he is basically playing a more competent version of Earl and doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this new film. Kimberly Williams-Paisley is fairly bland as the love interest and Josh Green plays the bully well, and the character’s all too sudden change of heart is not the actor’s fault. The voices of the chipmunks meanwhile, are Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney. The film features cameos from a host of famous faces, including ‘Parks and Recreation’’s Retta, ‘Orange is the New Black’’s Uzo Aduba and perhaps most surprisingly, John Waters, whose presence is simply used to make a joke about his 1972 film ‘Pink Flamingo’s. As well as thee, Tony Hale turns up as an obsessive air marshall and his over the top, ridiculous shenanigans manage to make this cinematic wreck just about watchable.
Randi Mayem Singer and Adam Sztykiel’s screenplay is littered with painfully self conscious references to social media and reality TV – the Chipettes are apparently off to host American Idol – and awkward references to popular culture. The songs seem to come out of nowhere, although the extras always seem to have a choreographed dance routine ready to go.
Director Walt Becker does little to make ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip’ less than awful, although parents who think the lyrics to ‘Baby Got Back’ are fine but have concerns about some in ‘Uptown Funk’ will be happy with the watered down versions of the songs in the film. ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip’ is badly paced, and storylines are left to dangle without being wrapped up. As well as this, the CGI looks fairly shoddy.
In all, ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip’ is probably best viewed by the youngest members of the family; adults in the audience will gain nothing from this thin, unentertaining and unfunny ‘comedy’ littered with jaded references to pop culture and new cover versions of overplayed songs.
Review by Brogen Hayes